3D Printing to Raspberry Pi’s: How a Quiet Florida School Library Got Transformed by a Makerspace

3D Printing to Raspberry Pi’s: How a Quiet Florida School Library Got Transformed by a Makerspace

Judy Houser

On any given day at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, visitors to the Lower School library might be surprised to find it bears little resemblance to the school libraries of years past.

Several 5th graders sit at computers, developing 3D luggage tags using Tinkercad to be printed on the nearby Makerbot 3D printer. On the central library tables, students are creating Rube Goldberg machines using physical manipulatives or the RubeWorks iPad app. The library is a buzz of activity and student engagement, punctuated with squeals of excitement. And overseeing the makerspace is librarian Judy Houser, a veteran educator who took the visionary step of transforming this once quiet library into a space where students not only learn to love reading, but learn to explore, create and innovate using a variety of tools.

Step 1: Research

Encouraged by her husband to purchase a Raspberry Pi for students to use, Houser discovered the Makerspace movement while researching how to incorporate the device into her curriculum. Intrigued to learn of other libraries that had incorporated makerspaces, she expanded her research. "It was obvious that a Makerspace in our library could provide unique opportunities for student-initiated exploration, invention and collaboration," Houser says.

Houser started by reading Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, and attended one of their workshops--but it didn't stop there. "I researched Makerspaces online, visited another school that had a Makerspace, and tweeted other educators for help. I also connected with other Makers in person and via email, and attended the 2014 ISTE conference,” she adds.

Inspired by the possibilities, Houser approached some school parents who were professional architects to help design a plan for a corner of the library. Within a few months, the library's first-ever Makerspace was born.

Step 2: Funding and Tools

Funds for the Makerspace came in part from a grant from the Harris Corporation, a Melbourne based engineering firm. In addition to a 3D printer, Houser acquired a Raspberry Pi, a Makey Makey, snap circuits, gyrobots, Legos, and a variety of building materials for creating Rube Goldberg machines. Other Makerspace materials include recycled electronics that students can take apart and repurpose, a tool kit, and various conductive materials that can be found in anyone’s garage.

"Eight old spoons and a Makey Makey, and your kids can make beautiful music together!” Houser chuckles.

Step 3: Transforming Teaching

Adding the Makerspace has inspired Houser to teach differently. "Previously, I would lecture and demonstrate during library lessons," she reflects. "There was discussion, but little opportunity for learning to be student-driven—the agenda was usually mine.”

But with this Makerspace, that has changed. “Now, I make instructions accessible on a shared drive, demonstrate a few techniques, and then allow students to see what else they can make happen. They choose what they want to learn,” she explains.

Not only are students choosing what to learn--they’re teaching each other. Houser says that with these new tools and atmosphere, the students are “teaching other, and often teaching me, as they collaborate,” adding that “It is becoming more common for students to ask for help from another student before they ask for it from me. We have had many opportunities to learn from our mistakes--the kids understand that revision is an important part of the design process."

What has surprised her most about the Makerspace, Houser says, is that it is a great equalizer. “Students no longer seek out the most popular students, but the ones who have similar interests or who have skills that they want to learn,” she says. Currently, maker activities are explored by students in grades 2-6, with plans to include kindergarten and first- grade students in the near future.

Step 4: Looking Towards the Future

Student and parent reaction to the Makerspace, notes Houser, has been overwhelmingly positive, and when asked what tips she has for other teacher-librarians interested in creating a Makerspace, Judy smiles. "First, kiss the quiet library goodbye. Don’t feel intimidated when adults come in and find the library is noisy—collaboration requires communication!"

From a practical perspective, Houser recommends getting as many people on board as you can. "Ask parents, members of your tech team or anyone else willing to stop by and lend a hand," she says. "Don’t feel that you have to have a perfect space or that your Makerspace has to look like someone else’s. Remember that it’s about the process and not about the product."

Other suggestions included having parents to create their own Tinkercad accounts so their children can work on 3D print projects from home and using Maker and Rube Goldberg videos on youtube to give your students inspiration. The ‘This Too Shall Pass’ Rube Goldberg YouTube video (shown below) is a “phenomenal must-see,” according to Houser.

Future plans for the Makerspace include a foray into wearable electronics and the addition of a laser cutter, to be funded by the school’s Parent Association. Houser has also applied for a grant to help fund a class set of littleBits, which are electronic modules that kids can snap together to create circuits. And while the space is still technically a “library,” Houser to open to further developments--especially given the student response.

“The library has always been a popular place on campus, but now I have to make the students leave when their class time is over!" she says.

NOTE: This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative (representing the state of Florida). 

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